Scientists recognize amazing cognitive process behind playing StarCraft

StarCraft II

It’s about time StarCraft II got some credit from scientists for being totally awesome and pushing the limits of human brain functions.

Anyone who plays the game online will know just how mentally demanding it is, requiring intense levels of focus, planning and multitasking. And now scientists have recognized the importance of the game in terms of understanding the human mind, and even training people to more effectively multitask.

“I can’t think of a cognitive process that’s not involved in StarCraft,” said Mark Blair, a cognitive scientist at Simon Fraser University. “It’s working memory. It’s decision making. It involves very precise motor skills. Everything is important and everything needs to work together.”

Scientists who have observed professional StarCraft II players have been blown away with the levels of multitasking on display. The manner in which players are able to perform as many as 6 actions per second, and divide their attention between economy management, combat management and other key gameplay elements is not mimicked in many real world activities, so naturally scientists are eager to learn more about how the game manages to bring these almost super-human qualities out of players.

The idea is to understand the learning process which goes into training StarCraft II players to exercise such incredible multitasking, and use the core principles to teach broader multi-tasking skills to people.

“Recent experiments on computer games are beginning to suggest that players develop skills that could be useful in other contexts – skills that might allow those individuals to cope better with certain types of information overload,” reads an article published in The Scientific American.

StarCraft II Screenshot

StarCraft II

As a result, Blair has created SkillCraft, which is a project dedicated to understanding the cognitive processes which underlie competitive StarCraft II gameplay. The project is being called the world’s biggest experiment on how expertise develops and, ultimately, on how we learn.

“Translating those goals into cognitive load, the brain’s executive functions manage most of the game’s demands. Several types of memory may be engaged to keep track of the weapons at one’s disposal and the locations of multiple objects on a map; attentional systems allow a player to plan future moves, switch focus to different activities around the map, and evaluate the enemy’s strategy. Motor skills are needed to rapidly click around the map to move and implement actions. In short, the game is a relentless exercise in multitasking and constant decision-making,” reads an  excerpt from the study.

“From the perspective of the cognitive motor system, StarCraft is the most interesting thing you could do online,” Blair says. Of course, we’ve been saying that for years.

Find out more about Skillcraft here.

Sources: The Scientific American, SkillCraft
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Scientists recognize amazing cognitive process behind playing StarCraft

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